The Brooklyn Nets and general manager Billy King have spent the better part of the NBA offseason shedding salary and even less in the way of adding meaningful players.
The Nets appear to be thin at the guard position after letting the versatile wing Shaun Livingston leave for the Golden State Warriors but acquiring journeyman veteran Jarrett Jack does help soften the blow. Re-signing Alan Anderson to a two-year deal solidifies the guard rotation, but will it be enough?
When the Nets acquired Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz shortly before their move to Brooklyn, they were expecting him to bring along his All-Star form. While Deron has performed, averaging 17 points and nine assists during his tenure with the Nets, it hasn’t translated to wins and does nothing to justify paying him the remainder of the $98 million, five-year extension he signed in 2012.
With all due respect to the former All-Star who turned 30 in June, his better days are likely behind him. Williams’ assist numbers have plummeted each season in Brooklyn from nine per game in the lockout shortened season to six in 2013-14. He has been hobbled by ankle problems throughout his career and his time with the Nets, including a late season dual surgery on both ankles this past year. If things go south in a hurry this upcoming season, expect to hear Williams being shopped around the trade deadline.
The Nets and new head coach Lionel Hollins desperately need Williams to regain his confidence and become the floor general he once was in the now wide-open Eastern Conference. If Williams begins the season struggling, Hollins may turn to a three-guard lineup.
By playing both Williams and the recently acquired Jack at the same time, it will take some of the pressure off of Williams and allow Jack to be more of the facilitator. With Jack, the Nets also receive the benefit of another strong perimeter defender and outside shooting help. He is also capable of scoring when called upon, as evident by his third place finish in the Sixth Man of the Year voting back in 2013.
Jorge Gutierrez received sparse minutes in his rookie season with Brooklyn. After going undrafted out of California, followed by a stint with the Canton Charge of the D-league, Gutierrez received mop up duty but showed that he was capable of getting to the basket and defending the point.
Joe Johnson has been as a reliable player as any in his 13-year NBA career. Since his initial season with Brooklyn, the do-it-all guard/forward has been the most consistent player in the Nets’ lineup, missing all but 13 games over the past two seasons. With Williams declining, the health of Brook Lopez a concern and the team’s subtractions, look for Johnson to shoulder the load for Brooklyn early on in the season.
Most teams in the NBA have a defensive specialist, like a Thabo Sefolosha or a Luol Deng, to guard the opposing teams primary scorer every night. In Brooklyn’s case that man is Alan Anderson.
The five-year veteran was rewarded for his services following the Nets first round playoff loss to the Toronto Raptors signing a two-year deal worth $3 million. His play won’t make it onto any highlight packages but will be greatly appreciated by his hard-nosed coach Hollins, who had a comparable player in Tony Allen back in Memphis.
Re-signing Anderson may appear to be insignificant but it does go a long way to establishing a defense-first culture in Brooklyn. In an era where small-ball lineups are prevalent, bringing back Anderson, who can guard positions one through three, allows for defensive and offensive versatility.
Brooklyn drafted Markel Brown and Xavier Thames in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft in hopes of adding further depth to the guard position. Brown was a former accomplice to fellow draftee and Oklahoma State back-court mate Marcus Smart. Brown is very athletic and can play both guard positions while shooting the ball at a high clip.
Thames’s game is comparable to Brown’s; both are 6’3″ and 190 pounds who have developed an outside touch. The pair should add more quickness to the perimeter defense which is not Williams’ strong suit.
Overall, the additions of Jack and rookies Brown and Thames bring a nice mix of veteran savvy and youth to a back court that is in need of consistency. Deron Williams is limited and appears to be on the decline, meanwhile you know what you will get each night from Anderson and Johnson. It will be interesting to see who Hollins goes with in his rotation this coming season. He has plenty to choose from.